Manchester City have conceded, on average, 1.3 goals per match this season. These are numbers not seen since the dark days of the mid-1990s, when City plummeted into the third tier of English football.
An oft-disorganised defence must shoulder a significant amount of blame, but goalkeepers Willy Caballero and Claudio Bravo are ultimately the greatest culprits in this sorry saga. The latter once more found himself the butt of social media jokes and memes after conceding a soft goal, in amateurish fashion, during last weekend’s 3-1 victory over Hull.
It is by no means the first time that Bravo has been subjected to the scorn of the internet. A 4-0 defeat to Everton back in January still ranks as Bravo’s lowest of low points with City. As this page shows, Manchester City’s defensive frailties ensure that their odds for a top four finish become longer with every passing week.
Should Bravo continue to perform in such an erratic manner, Hart will find it insultingly easy to wrest back the mantle of number one goalkeeper. However, there is the ever-present possibility that Hart will harbour resentment towards Guardiola, after his temporary – and in hindsight, unnecessary – exile to Torino.
With that noted, three names have emerged as prominent potential targets.
Schmeichel the Mancunian Candidate
Ten years ago, when City’s seismic financial revolution was in its infancy, a decidedly boyish Kasper Schmeichel emerged from the tunnel at Upton Park on a searing summer afternoon in August 2007. He could not possibly have foreseen the top flight journey on which he was about to embark in the coming decade.
His stint as Manchester City’s number one custodian began in blissful fashion. With the newfound firepower and creativity of Elano, Rolando Bianchi and Geovanni, City blew away their hosts 2-0. Further wins (against Derby and Manchester United) followed, with Schmeichel keeping a clean sheet on both occasions to send the Citizens soaring to the top of the table.
The good times did not last however. Sven Goran Erikson lost the dressing room, and the season petered out, ending with an 8-1 humiliation at Middlesbrough. As the new decade approached, City grew in stature. Consequently, a far more commanding goalkeeper was required.
Joe Hart fitted the bill perfectly after a breakthrough loan period at Birmingham City (in 2009/10), in which the blues finished an impressive ninth. Schmeichel was subsequently sold to Notts County in 2009, apparently doomed to fail in his quest to uphold the family name.
How times change.
After joining Leicester in 2010, Schmeichel transformed from boy to man, and then from man to Premier League champion. A vital fixture in Leicester’s 5000/1 title win, and subsequent Champions League run, Schmeichel has proven once and for all that he has the skill and composure to make a success out of a challenging situation.
Now thirty, Schmeichel still has ample time to once more make City a force to be reckoned with.
Duties for Donnarumma if Hart Does a Runner
Last year, Gianluigi Donnarumma was a record breaker, when he became an Italian senior international player aged just 17. It is known that the Italian U21 shot stopper has already been courted by several Premier League clubs – including City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Donnarumma has also drawn encouraging comparisons to his countryman and namesake Gianluigi Buffon.
The promise of better pay checks in the Premier League aside, Donnarumma is guaranteed a bright future with AC Milan. The learning curve is also perfect, since AC Milan are far from peerless but still one of the stronger teams in Calcio A. Ultimately, this ensures that he remains confident, yet adequately challenged every weekend.
The time is ripe for a revolution at AC Milan, with the club now bereft of a European trophy for ten years. For that reason, it will be difficult for any club to lure him away from what is shaping up to be a curious AC Milan project for reinstatement amongst the elite.
Neuer the Nuclear Option
Whether Pep Guardiola’s men reach the Champions League or not, funds will once more be plentiful in the summer. If Hart, understandably, wishes to move on, then it will be essential that Guardiola makes the acquisition of a new goalkeeper his number one priority in the summer.
Between the sticks, Manuel Neuer is a man any club would sell its soul for. Such is the compensation that would be demanded by Bayern Munich, only City – along, perhaps, with Real Madrid and Chelsea – would have any realistic chance of meeting an asking price. There is strong implication, from an as-yet small number of sources, that such a price could even breach the nine-figure mark.
What exactly Neuer would bring to the City setup requires no elaboration. However, should City fail to qualify for the Champions League, then it should be safe to assume that no amount of money could lure the world cup winner, and perennial Bundesliga champion, from his rightful home.
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